Honduran Presidential Election In Limbo
Honduran presidential candidate and wife of ousted-leftist president Xiomara Castro cries fraud in election, as nations seen as US proxies congratulate ruling party candidate.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
In Honduras, leftist candidate Xiomara Castro and human rights groups are crying foul as preliminary official results show right-wing national party candidate Juan Hernández in the lead and poised to win Sunday’s presidential election. Both sides have claimed victory, and Castro has vowed to legally challenge the results. And it appears Honduras is headed for a protracted political standoff. Challenger Xiomara Castro is the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, who was removed from power by a U.S.-backed coup in 2009.
Now joining us to give us the latest is Alex Main. He is the senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
Thanks for being with us, Alex.
ALEX MAIN, SENIOR ASSOC. FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY, CEPR: Pleasure to be back, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Alex, give us the latest from the ground. I know you over there at CEPR have been keeping up a blog. Can you let us know what actually is coming out of Honduras right now?
MAIN: Sure. Well, there was just a few hours ago a press conference that was held by the LIBRE Party, which is the party supporting the candidacy of Xiomara Castro. She did not appear in that press conference. It was her husband, the former deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, who was there. And basically it was–he gave a rallying cry for people to mobilize against what he called a fraud, alleging that the TSE, the electoral authority, and the National Party, the ruling national party, are trying to steal the elections, and that the exit polling, accurate exit polling that’s showing that Xiomara Castro won by at least four points.
Now, the electoral authority has not yet released all of the results. Apparently it’s still counting. It’s released now results based on 62 percent of the counted votes. And those results have Juan Orlando Hernandez, the National Party candidate, with about 34 percent and Xiomara at just about 29 percent. There’s a little bit less than a five and a half point difference between them. So it is rather tight at this point.
But what the LIBRE Party is alleging is that something like 20 percent of the voter tally sheets have been set aside and are not being processed by the TSE, and the TSE, the electoral authority, has not really given a justification for having done this, and that these tally sheets favor the Xiomara Castro candidacy, and if they were to be processed and included in the count, the results would shift in her favor. So that is what they’re saying at this point.
They’re also backed in that allegation by a second presidential candidate, who’s actually from the right, Salvador Nasralla. And he is from the Anticorruption Party. He’s currently in the fourth-place position in the results. He’s not alleging that he won, but he is alleging the same thing, about 20 percent of these tally sheets not being processed.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about the role of the U.S. and other Western powers. The E.U. and the U.S. have come out and said the elections were free and fair, with U.S. ambassador to Honduras saying essentially, quote, “We had 110 observers in almost all Honduras states, and we have seen a transparent process with all parties represented at the table.” But this move has really been condemned by human rights groups, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights. What kind of evidence do they have that there actually has been fraud?
MAIN: Well, there have been a lot of reports of some serious irregularities, among them vote-buying, giving money to voters to vote a certain way or to staff that is administering the various polling booths, in order to perpetrate fraud, allegedly. So, you know, that’s an accusation that we’ve heard. There’s also been some intimidation tactics that really began before the elections, some armed thugs with ski masks going into communities in some areas and intimidating potential voters.
And also there have been complaints, from a long time ago, actually, but the whole transmission system that the electoral authority is using. And interestingly, the Organization of American States’ electoral mission also signal in their last report that there were still problems with this transmission system, that it was not foolproof, that there were some bugs with it, etc. So this is the system that transmits the results from the various voting centers to the central headquarters of the TSE, and there could be problems there as well.
DESVARIEUX: And as I mentioned in the introduction, it’s expected that this is going to become a protracted, drawn-out conflict in Honduras. It’s already considered to be the deadliest place in the world, and activists warned of increasing political repression leading up to Sunday’s election. What can Zelaya supporters expect in the upcoming weeks and months?
MAIN: Well, I mean, first of all, we do have to wait for the full results to be announced. I mean, at this point there’s really quite a wide margin. It’s still a tight race, but you still have an over five point margin separating the two candidates with 62 percent of the votes that have been counted. Things could still conceivably change. And it will be interesting to see also whether the TSE addresses the accusations that are coming from two parties, one on the left, the LIBRE Party, and the Anticorruption Party that’s more to the right, that 20 percent of the tally sheets have been withdrawn by the TSE for no reason. So it will be interesting to see what happens there.
There’s also, of course, the role of international observers. None of them have made any definite statements at this point. You have the Organization of American States, which, you know, is seen as very close to Washington. In fact, it’s located in Washington, D.C. And so, you know, in past elections there have certainly been accusations that they’ve been biased towards Washington, such as the elections in Haiti of late 2010. You also have the Carter Center. You also have some sort of para-governmental organizations, like National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute. And you have you have the European Union. So, you know, all of these organizations have been accused of some sort of bias in the past, but it’ll be interesting to see what they have to say at the end of the day. And, in fact, it’s hard to say whether today we will have the full results yet.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s talk a little bit more about the U.S. They have been a major backer of Honduras’s military. And they backed the 2009 military coup against Zelaya. What is the U.S. role moving forward? And do you see human rights advocates having any say, really, and any ability to really pressure the U.S.’s hand in Honduras?
MAIN: Well, I think things are a little bit better in that sense than they were back in 2009 when the coup occurred. After that coup, the main forces that were pressuring Congress and the U.S. government were from the right, arguably the extreme right, sort of the South Florida contingent that’s very anti-Cuba and that associated the Zelaya government with Cuba and the left-wing governments of the region and were really on a huge campaign, whereas I would say the more liberal to left forces weren’t as mobilized.
Well, that’s changed a lot since 2009. You’ve had quite a bit of mobilization. And that’s–really, you have testimony to that in the many congressional letters that have appeared, signed by dozens of members of Congress, expressing concern about political developments and the human rights situation and about the ongoing U.S. security assistance to Honduras. So that is a force that the administration, the U.S. administration now has to contend with a little bit more. And I think it may have contributed to what is a fairly mild and cautious statement from the State Department, the first one so far on these elections, where, you know, they essentially say, we have to wait for the full results. We also have to wait for some of these disputes that are occurring to be resolved. And so on. So they haven’t said anything definite.
But it is still troubling to see that there are some countries that have already recognized, that have congratulated the ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. Among them you have Panama, Colombia, and you also have Spain and Guatemala. So those three Latin American countries often act on behalf of the United States and the Organization of American States. They really almost act as proxies at times. And so there are suspicions that the U.S. is being careful not to put a public face on its support, its direct support for the ruling party candidate, but that it may be acting through some of these countries that it has very strong ties with.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Alex Main, thank you so much for joining us.
MAIN: Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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